Don’t catch this one

We’ve always had to take Pokémon spin-offs with a grain of salt. Sure, there have been some interesting ideas like Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and Pokémon Snap that have been able to pique our curiosity for a little while along the way, and natural evolutions to the series like Pokémon Stadium, but most don’t have the staying power for sequels or simply fail outright. It’s just hard to capture the core of what makes the main series of Pokémon games great and put it into a different format that still appeals to consumers. Yet, Nintendo still keeps on trying to milk its precious cash cow in different ways.

The latest attempt at capitalizing on their beloved Poké-brand is Pokémon Rumble U, the third in the Rumble spin-off franchise and the first Pokémon game of any kind on the Wii U. In the Rumble series, players play as wind-up toys designed to look like Pokémon. You battle your way through a series of arenas, mashing a single button for a signature move that corresponds to the Pokémon. (You get two moves if they happen to be a dual-type.) As you fight your toys against other toys, you can add those you defeat to your collection, trying in essence to signify the capturing of a Pokémon from the main series.

The big difference between this iteration and previous titles in the Rumble franchise is that it takes advantage of the Wii U’s built-in NFC technology. This allows you to buy special figures (17 in all) that can help their corresponding Pokémon in the game, giving the a sense of leveling up for the first time in the series. You don’t need these figures to beat the game, mind you, but Pokémon fans and collectors alike will probably want to try to pick up a couple.

Of course, this has the beginnings of a slippery slope for Nintendo and consumers. First, there are all 649 currently available Pokémon in the game, and only 17 figures, leaving the door open for more figures to be added. The figures are also concealed, so whatever you buy is given to you randomly. It comes across as a lottery system really that takes advantage of Poké-fanatics’ willingness to throw money at anything with a Pokémon label on it.

Moral ambiguity aside, the worst part is that Pokémon Rumble U really isn’t a very good game. It’s by no means broken, and the ability to have four people play at once, trying to collect as many coins in battle as possible like some deranged Mario Party mini-game, makes it something that could offer younger children a distraction for an hour or two. But the strategy, the gameplay, the characters, and, most importantly, the bond you may develop towards your most familiar Pokémon are completely absent from this game.

From the very first battle, you’re encouraged to leave behind the Pokémon you start with for the ones you capture, who are typically stronger than your previous crew. Even then, when you actually get into one of these arenas, most of the time all you’re doing is mashing a single button. The gameplay is beyond mindless and gets tired fast no matter how many Pokémon figurines you want to collect.

When all is said and done, Pokémon Rumble U comes off as nothing but Nintendo trying to build up some hype for the highly anticipated Pokémon X/Y and line their pockets with some cheap action figure sales in the process. The game works as a proof-of-concept for the NFC technology (even if no one else is using it right now), but beyond that, this is the kind of dull downloadable game you hope will get lost in the ether sooner rather than later.

Developer: Ambrella • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 08.29.13
Serving as little more than a proof of concept for the Wii U controller’s NFC technology, Pokémon Rumble U is a boring, pointless game that should just be chalked up as another failed Pokémon spinoff.
The Good A Mario Party–style competition system that could make the game fun for multiple players.
The Bad The lack of any of the core gameplay mechanics that make a Pokémon game great.
The Ugly The parents who will surely be duped into buying the companion NFC figures.
Pokémon Rumble U is a Wii U exclusive.